following is the background and history of The Chemical Brothers. It is
based on numerous old magazine and web articles, and my own memory! I cannot claim it is definitive, however, I intend
to add to it as much as I can over time. I would welcome any further
submissions to make the account more comprehensive.
[ jump to year 1989 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002]
Ed Simons was born in Herne Hill, South London, England in 1970, to a barrister mother, who specifically looked after adoption cases, and a father who was not around much when Ed was growing up. Ed's two main interests when he was young were airplanes and musicals. Simons whet to school in Allays in South London, and left with 11 "O" levels and 3 "A" levels (O levels and A levels are national exams taken by secondary school students in the UK). Ed also had developed a fondness of rare groove and hip hop, having frequented a club called The Mud Club when he was 14. By the time he was of school leaving age, his two main musical interests were New Order and The Smiths. These interests were pivotal in Simons' decision to go to college in Manchester University. Simon's studied Medieval History at Manchester University.
[ the chemical brothers are Tom Rowlands (left) and Ed Simons ]
Another student in Ed's class on his first day in university in 1989 was one
Tom Rowlands. Tom was born in 1971, in Kingston-Upon-Thames. His father was
a lighting cameraman. When Tom was very young, his family relocated to
Henley. Tom was obsessed with Scotland when he was a child, and loved the
bagpipes in particular. Later, Tom became interested in music. Initially one
of his favorites was the "Oh What A Lovely War" soundtrack, then
2-Tone, and in his early teens, synth-pop. Rowlands used to listen to such
artists as Heaven 17, Kraftwerk and Cabaret Voltaire on his walkman to and
from school in Reading. Later on in his teens, Tom progressed to Jesus &
Mary Chain. Tom describes the first Public Enemy album as the record which
probably changed his life, and thought "My Uzi Weighs a Ton" was
one of the most amazing records he had ever heard. Rowlands then started
collecting a lot of hip hop records, from people like Eric B and Schoolly D,
but was also big into My Bloody Valentine. Tom left school with 9
"O" levels and 3 "A" levels. Tom also decided to go to
Manchester for further study because of its music scene at the time, and
specifically the Hacienda.
Rowlands was also in a band, called Ariel, prior to meeting up with Simons. Ariel was formed in London by Tom and his friends Brendan and Matt before they all moved up to Manchester. Their first single was "Sea of Beats". Other songs, mostly released on 12" included "Mustn't Grumble" and their most well-known song "Rollercoaster". Their record label, deConstruction, insisted that they get a female singer, and after some disappointing songs like "Let It Slide" (Tom would later describe it as "a stinker") the band fell apart. One of the last things Ariel did was the song "T Baby" which was remixed by Tom and Ed. Ed: "Ariel symbolically ended when Deconstruction asked us for a Dust Brothers remix of an Ariel track. That was the final nail in the coffin".
Tom on Ariel, in 95: "One of the blokes went a bit mad, but now he's back at college, and the other one drives our van".
Tom, and his friend, Ed, then started to DJ at a club called "Naked Under Leather, in the back of a pub, in 1992. Tom and Ed would play hip hop, techno and house. Also DJ's at Naked Under Leather were Alex Kohler and Phil South. The pictures below feature the four Naked Under Leather DJ's. From left to right, Alex Kohler, Phil South, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons. The pictures were taken by sq8r for a Jockey Slut (UK DJ magazine) article on Naked Under Leather at the time.
Tom and Ed called themselves the Dust Brothers, after the US production duo famous for their work with the Beastie Boys. After a while, they began to run out of suitable instrumental hip hop tracks to use, so they started to make their own. The guys eventually came up with, using a Hitachi hi-fi system, a computer, a sampler and a keyboard, "Song To The Siren", which sampled Meat Beat Manifesto. "Song To The Siren" was released on their own record label, called "Diamond Records" (named after Ed's nickname). In October 1992, they press 500 white-label copies "Song To The Siren". They go around to the various dance record shops around London, but none would play it, as they said it was too slow ( The track played at 111 BPM). They send one to London DJ Andrew Weatherall, who makes it a permanent fixture in his DJ sets. Weatherall also signs the band to his Junior Boy's Own label. In May 1993 Junior Boy's Own release 'Song To The Siren', still credited to The Dust Brothers.
Both Tom and Ed completed university with good results, 2:1's each in their
course. Around June 1993 the Dust Brothers do their first remixes. The first
was "Packet Of Peace" for Robertson's Lionrock outfit, as well as
tracks for Leftfield, Republica and the Sandals. Late in 1993 The Dust
Brothers completed work on their "14th Century Sky" EP. In January
it is released. It contains the groundbreaking 'Chemical Beats', which epitomizes
the duo's genre defining big beat sound, later borrowed by Fatboy
Slim and many more. The EP also contains the beautiful and melodic "One
Too Many Mornings", which for the first time was showing the less
intense, more chilled out side of The Dust Brothers. Both "One Too Many
Mornings" and "Chemical Beats" would later show up on their
debut album. "14th Century Sky" was followed later in 1993 by the
"My Mercury Mouth" EP.
The Heavenly Social
In October 1994 The Dust Brothers became resident DJs at the hugely-influential but small Heavenly Sunday Social Club at the Albany pub in London's Great Portland Street. The likes of Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller, James Dean Bradfield and Tim Burgess are regulars. The Dust Brothers are subsequently asked to remix tracks by Manic Street Preachers and The Charlatans. They also at this point work on two of their best remixes; Primal Scream's "Jailbird" and The Prodigy's "Voodoo People". These two remixes even get television exposure, with MTV Europe's "The Party Zone" playlisting both later on in 1995. Early in 1994 however, The Dust Brothers are approached in the club one Sunday by Noel Gallagher, from Oasis, who at the time were becoming one of the most prominent guitar bands in Britain. Noel tells the duo that he has a Balearic inspired track which he has written, which he would like the Dust Brothers to remix. However, over time, Noel changes his mind about the track, and in the end does not get the Brothers to remix it. The track was called "Wonderwall".
From Dust To Chemical...
In March 1995 The Dust Brothers begin their first international tour, which includes the US - where they play with Orbital and Underworld - then a series of European festivals. Also around this time, the original Dust Brothers threaten legal action over use of their name, and so the Rowlands and Simons had to change their name. They had to decide on a new name quickly, so they asked themselves what did they reckon was there best track, and call themselves after that. They decided to then call themselves "The Chemical Brothers" after the groundbreaking "Chemical Beats" track. They later admit, it was not the best name possible (Ed's grandmother had suggested they call themselves "The Grit Brothers"!). In June 1995 they release their fourth single under their new identity of The Chemical Brothers. "Leave Home" was released on Junior Boy's Own, as a preview of the imminent debut album and becomes the band's first chart hit, peaking at No. 17. "The Chemical Brothers go for big hip-hop beats, howling sirens and persistent vocals reciting, 'The Brothers gonna work it out'," says NME.
Exit Planet Dust
In July of 1995 The Chemical Brothers release debut album 'Exit Planet Dust' on Freestyle Dust/Junior Boy's Own. It enters the UK charts at an impressive #9 and introduces guest vocalist Beth Orton on the song 'Alive:Alone'. It eventually goes on to sell over a million copies worldwide. Shortly after its release
The Chemical Brothers sign to Virgin Records, to which they take their own offshoot label, Freestyle Dust. For their next single, in September 1995 the band begin a trend of using guest vocalists on singles with the release of 'Life Is Sweet', featuring their friend Tim Burgess, singer with The Charlatans. It reaches #25 in the singles charts. NME awards it Single Of The Week and says, "The Brothers are in absolutely inspired, jackhammering, Underworld-fondling form. Crunchy on the outside. And crunchy on the inside too." The release includes a Daft Punk remix of "Life Is Sweet". The single is also Select Magazine's Single Of The Month for October.
August 1995, the Chemical Brothers DJ for Oasis at a Sheffield gig. However,
it seemed to backfire, when Liam Gallagher didn't seem to like any of the
tracks they were spinning. The closest that the Chems could come to pleasing
him was the Happy Monday's "Wrote For Luck". Liam proceeded to
kick the Chems off the turntables, and got a mate to continue to DJ, from
the Verve. However, it was all obscure psychedelic stuff, a real "one
person dancing" night. That "one person" for most of the
night seemed to be Jarvis Cocker, from Pulp. Later, Ed put on Leftfields
"Check One", which removed Jarvis from the floor.
Around this period, the Stone Roses asked the Chemical Brothers to remix "Begging You", from their "Second Coming" album. The Chems actually started the remix, and saw it to have great potential. However, the Roses changed their mind, and the Brothers had to stop the remix.
In October 1995 the duo return to the Heavenly Sunday Social for a second and final run of DJ dates. They then become residents at the Heavenly Social on Saturdays at Turnmills. In November The Chemical Brothers play the Astoria Theatre in London. At this time the Chems almost always used a fusion of "Chemical Beats" and The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" as their stunning encore, to devastating sonic effect. However, at this Astoria gig, during the encore, Keith Flint from the Prodigy jumps up on stage to dance, with a t shirt with the logo "Occupation: mad bastard". A few other from the crowd join in. However, in the climax of things, a power cable is kicked loose, and everything goes quite, and the music stops! The Chems are not too bothered; "because he's Keith from the Prodigy, and he can do whatever the fuck he likes" Tom would say afterwards. In December the Chems play their biggest gig yet, with the Prodigy, at the Brixton Academy, just before Christmas.
In January 1996 "Exit Planet Dust" reaches 100,000 sales, earning The Chemical Brothers a gold disc for the album. The Chemical Brothers also release their first new material in 6 months on Virgin, the "Loops Of Fury" EP. The four track release is limited to 20,000 copies. It enters the UK charts at #13. NME describes the lead track as "splashing waves of synths across hard-hitting beats". The EP also contains a Dave Clarke remix of "Chemical Beats", and two other new tracks "Get Up On It Like This" and "(The Best Part Of) Breaking Up".
February 1996, Select Magazine publishes a list of the 100 best albums of the
90's thus far. "Exit Planet Dust" is listed at an impressive
In August 1996, The Chemical Brothers support Oasis at the huge Knebworth, where 125,000 attend each of the two gigs.
Back the previous year, during the 1995 Glastonbury festival, The Chems had another conversion with Noel Gallagher from Oasis. Noel had pointed out to the Chems how much he liked "Exit Planet Dust". Noel also asked if he could sing on a future Chems track, similar to the way Tim Burgess had worked on "Life Is Sweet". Tom and Ed didn't think much of the offer at the time, give how busy Noel would be with the release of "What's The Story Morning Glory", plus the complexities of dealing with each others record companies. However, the duo did later on have a track which they though was really good, but would be much better if it had a vocal on it. They remembered what Noel had said to them at Glastonbury, and decided to send him a tape of what they had done so far. Noel got the tape, worked on it overnight, and left a message with the Chems early the next morning that he was ready to record it. Later on Noel came over to the Chems studio, laid down the vocal track, and Tom and Ed then spent some time mixing it to complete the process. The track was called "Setting Sun". It was finally released in October 1996. "Setting Sun" enters the UK charts at the top, giving the duo their first ever Number One single. "Setting Sun" was backed by a longer instrumental version, and also a new track "Buzz Tracks", which was not much more than a DJ tool. The three remaining Beatles' lawyers later wrote to the Chemical Brothers, mistakenly claiming that they had sampled "Tomorrow Never Knows". Virgin Records hired a musicologist to prove that they did not sample the classic 60's psychedelic track.
In Mar 1997, the Brothers release the second track from their forthcoming album, to give the world a further taster of what to expect. "Block Rockin' Beats" goes straight to #1 in the UK, thanks, this time, to its Schoolly D vocal sample. The NME names it Single Of The Week and says, "It throbs like your head might if you had just done a length underwater in a swimming pool full of amyl." It later wins a Grammy award for Best Rock Instrumental.
Things were quite promising for the Brothers in the US at this time, "Setting Sun" was sitting at Number 80 in the Billboard Top 100, after selling around 80,000 copies, an excellent achievement for a European "dance" act. Sales from "Exit Planet Dust were also up at around 1sss50,000. The US was ready and willing for more from the Brothers, the time seemed to be right. The Chems had also made many trips to the US over the past few years, even before "Exit Planet Dust" was released in America.
Your Own Hole
On 7th April the Chemical Brothers release their second album, called "Dig Your Own Hole". It was recorded at the band's own south London studio, with the title taken from graffiti on the wall outside. The album is well received in most circles. Mixmag gives it 10/10 and its "Album of the Month" label, calling it "mad enough to be thrilling, slick enough for not even remotely coffee tables". The album's high point was universally agreed by everyone. The nine minute plus "Private Psychedelic Reel", which featured Mercury Rev's Jon Donahue, was according to Mixmag "take anything you've ever heard about dance or rock dance and drop it in the garbage. Because this is the best this fusion has ever got: imagine The Chemicals doing an acid drenched cover of The Stone Roses' 'I Am The Resurrection'. Grateful Dead fans are going to be frying their brains out on LSD to this track for the next 20 years".
the summer of '97, the Brothers tour extensively, particularly in the States, where they and the
Prodigy become Britain's most successful dance exports. They also become residents at
Tokyo's Liquid Rooms. In
August, the Chemical Brothers finally patch things up with the US Dust
Brothers, and ask them to remix forthcoming single "Electrobank".
The Chems are still constantly being asked to do more remixes for other
artists. Metallica ask the Brothers several times to remix "Enter
Sandman", but they keep turning them down, as it would not be a
suitable track for them to do. In September, they release the next
single from "Dig Your Own Hole", called "Elektrobank"
which reaches Number 17 in the UK. In
November the Chemical Brothers play a gig at Dublin's Point Theatre, with
support from Carl Cox. The Chems also begin a US tour in Detroit. Highlight
of the Dublin set includes the incredible" Chemical Beats" mixed
with "All You Need Is Love".
To round off a great year for the Brothers, "Dig Your Own Hole"'s final, stand-out track, the nine minute-long 'The Private Psychedelic Reel' leads a limited-edition mini-EP of the same name. The b-side is a live version of "Setting Sun", recorded at the Lowlands Festival, Holland on 24th August 1997. The CD single also contains a Chemical Brothers poster and sticker. Also in December, following four sold-out US shows, The Chemical Brothers tour the UK, finishing with a sold-out gig at London's Brixton Academy. Later in the month, NME writers put "Dig Your Own Hole" at Number 12 in their Albums Of The Year poll. "Block Rockin' Beats" comes in at Number 10 in the singles equivalent.
The following year was a much quieter one release wise for the Chemical Brothers, and they concentrated more on DJ'ing. Some remixes did see the light of day however. The standout remix of the year was probably "I Think Im In Love" from Spritualized. Both a vocal remix and an instrumental remix were both included in the single release. Both versions came in at over seven-and-a-half minutes. Another remix completed by the Brothers was "Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp", from Mercury Rev. This was another extension in the association between the two bands, since Mercury Rev's Jonathon Donahue contributed to the "Private Psychedelic Reel" on "Dig Your Own Hole".
In September 1998 the Chems release their second mix album 'Brothers Gonna Work It Out'. It contains some of their own tracks and remixes, as well as songs from artists who have influenced their sound, such as Renegade Soundwave, Meat Beat Manifesto and Kenny 'Dope' Gonzales.
In May 1999 The Chemical Brothers play three UK dates in Manchester, Sheffield and Brighton, their first since December 97.Also in that month, the Chems release their first new original material in two years. The track is called "Hey Boy, Hey Girl". The track seems to indicate an evolution for The Chemical Brothers music wise, and is more house influenced than hip-hop. In interviews at the time, Tom and Ed indicate that the track was inspired by nights out at Sheffield club "Gatecrasher". The track is also one of their more commercially accessible tracks, a fact confirmed when the single goes straight to Number 1 in the UK upon release.
to the sound of 1999...
In June, third album "Surrender" is released. It features guest vocals from Oasis' Noel Gallagher, Mercury Rev's Jonathan Donahue and Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. As "Hey Boy, Hey Girl" suggested, the album is more house orientated than the previous two. On one of the album's stand out tracks, "Out Of Control", Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie and New Order's Bernard Summer provide vocals. It reaches Number 1 in the UK album charts, and is widely praised in the print media. The album turns out to be one of the best releases of the year.
in the summer, The Brothers headline the Glastonbury dance tent on the Friday
night, followed by a short UK tour which ends in December and includes
headlining Homelands Scotland on September 4. In November "Out Of
Control", featuring Sumner and Gillespie on vocals, comes
out as another
single from "Surrender". The release also contains the much anticipated Sasha remix. The final single then from "Surrender" saw a release a few months later in February 2000, the "Music: Response" EP. The five track EP contained the title track and two remixes, aswell as a new track "Freak of the Week", plus a track called "Enjoyed", which was essentially a remix of "Out Of Control" by the Brothers themselves.
In August 2000 The Chems play to a large crowd at the main stage at Creamfields Ireland. Highlights of the live set include "Out Of Control" and "Hey Boy, Hey Girl". Shortly after Creamfields Ireland, Tom and Ed play the main stage at Glastonbury. In December 2000, The Chemical Brothers air one of their new tracks "It Began in Africa" at their New York DJ gigs supporting U2. According to Tom Rowlands the new track is described as having "quite a lot of percussion, big, sweeping sort of stuff. Live conga playing, quite spaced out. It's like Body & Soul, but really, really hard and twisted, it's like high-impact, full-on, but with more organic sounds, and quite intense, without the good vibe."
In 2001, The Chems were quite active with releases and live performances. Early in the year, they began working on a new and fourth album, provisionally titled "Chemical Four". The first track which fans got a taste of was "It Began In Afrika", as previously played in their DJ set in New York. The track would make its live debut in California in April 2001, at the Coachella Festival, to much acclaim. Another new track would also get its public debut at Coachella, "Galaxy Bounce". As has become customary for new Chems releases and experiments, "It Began In Afrika" is pressed as a promo first, as part of the "Electronic Battle Weapon" series. It gets much airplay on dance music radio shows in the UK, and becomes more and more popular in the clubs over the course of the summer. It also becomes one of the "anthems" in Ibiza as the summer progresses. Given the popularity of the track, it is given a full commercial single release in September. It reaches Number 8 in the UK Singles Charts, which is impressive as no promotional video was made for the track.
As well as finding time to put together a new album, Tom and Ed remixed a track from Fatboy Slim's "Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars", entitled "Song For Shelter", one of the standout tracks from Fatboy's latest release.
In October The Chemical Brothers finally finish work on their new album, which is called "Come With Us". It features collaborations with Richard Ashcroft ("The Test"), formerly of The Verve, and long time Chems collaborator Beth Orton ("The State We're In"). The album is released in January 2002, preceded by a single, called "Star Guitar", a sort of Balearic melodic number. The promotional video for the single is made by Michel Gondry, and is widely acclaimed as being groundbreaking. It features a view from a passenger looking out a train window at the passing scenery, with everything outside the train moving to the time of the music and sounds in the track. The Chems release one of the versions of the "Star Guitar" single on DVD for the first time.
The album, "Come With Us" is less well received than previous Chemical Brothers albums, but nonetheless goes straight in at Number 1 in the UK Album charts in the first week of its release, selling 100,000 copies.
In April the title track from the album is released as a single, with remixes from Fatboy Slim (for whom the Chems remixed a track in 2001), as part of a double-A sided release, with "The Test".
Summer of 2002, the Chems travel around Europe and The World doing the
festival circuit, to promote the "Come With Us" album. Later in
2002, The Chems release two EP's, one specifically aimed at Japan and the
other the US (entitled "American EP"). Both EP's contained
remixes, live versions and b-sides from the recent "Come With Us"
Late 2002 and early 2003 saw Tom and Ed back in the studio, working on new material, including working on a collaboration with The Flaming Lips.
sq8r for Naked Under Leather images)